How the Bay Area is leading the trend of using more renewable energy

How the Bay Area is leading the trend of using more renewable energy

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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Past Storyfest Entries, Renewable Energy

There is an upcoming trend in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it is not in the form of an app or a smartphone. Rather it is a more efficient way to use energy… specifically renewable energy. Community Choice Aggregation: A clunky name for a relatively simple concept of group purchasing, which, in this case, is for electricity.

To explain it in simple terms, Community Choice Aggregation allows local governments and some special districts to pool (or aggregate) their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts. The idea is to cut costs for consumers and also shift to using more renewable energy. Most CCAs are “opt-out” entities, meaning that the customer is by default part of the aggregation unless the customer opts-out. This opt-out arrangement has given community aggregation entities much higher participation rates than utility green power programs. CCA is an energy supply model that works in partnership with the region’s existing utility, which continues to deliver power, maintain the grid, provide consolidated billing and other customer services.

“It’s more than just cheap rates, more than just reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jessica Tovar, a coordinator for the East Bay Clean Power Alliance. “Having a business plan for local build out? That’s huge.”

Alameda County is the latest county to propose a CCA in California, following the like of San Mateo, Marin, San Francisco and Sonoma County. The shift in buying power to new energy authorities is framed by advocates as a prime opportunity to take action on lofty social equity goals often discussed in the abstract. Advocates of community choice say the new system will increase competition and allow more flexibility in shifting to renewable generation sources, although how many ratepayers are affected depends on how many cities in the county sign onto the plan. The proposal is currently being presented to the various cities within the county. If all goes well, the county could begin buying energy in the fall of 2017. If Alameda County successfully decides to pass into effect a CCA it would be on track to have the largest system in the nation. It would also, by the county’s estimates, create over 2,300 new jobs. And it has set personal goal of reaching 50 percent renewable energy goal by 2030.

California is one of seven other states with CCA laws in effect, but it remains the only state with the first climate-driven CCA program. The state provides an impressive 67 percent greenhouse gas-free power and offers a 100 percent renewables option. Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Ohio and New York were all designed on the premise of encouraging energy competition and cutting consumer costs.

“What California has done with its CCA program is create a government agency that allows us to decide where our power comes from and have it serve as a vehicle to transition to greener energy,” said Luis Amezcua, co-chair of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. “At the same time it’s a local agency, which benefits the community with job creation and helps the state meet its climate action goals.”

Community Choice has become a central part of California’s strategy to achieve its climate change goals. In May 2010, the nation’s first CCA committed to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased use of renewable power launched in Marin County. Since then, Marin Clean Energy has grown to serve over 100,000 customers with a minimum energy portfolio of 50 percent California qualified renewables.

If you do not live in a state that has passed a law allowing CCA programs, you can start by calling or writing a letter to your local government officials to advocate for a better way to buy energy and to simultaneously cut costs and shift to cleaner energy. States that are currently considering allowing CCA’s include Utah, Delaware, and Minnesota.

But for now, California takes the stand to be a leading example of how communities can come together and find a better, more efficient way to put themselves on the grid.

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